By Dr Aishath Muneeza, Associate Professor, INCEIF, Malaysia
COVID-19 began as a health crisis and now has led to an economic crisis. There is a sudden surge in the number of poor and needy who has become unemployed over night without any prior warning and who has no way to find an alternative work as the whole country is locked down to protect from widespread of the disease in the local communities. This is the situation in the whole world today and India is no exception to this. As Purohit in this April 2020 has reported in Aljazeera: millions in underdeveloped regions face penury and deprivation as economic activity grinds to a halt due to lockdown. An example to further describe this issue at an individual is described by Purohit as follows: For farm worker Manisha Uke, being able to survive is contingent on two factors – one, getting a daily wage of 100 Indian rupees ($1.3) a day and two, receiving a widow’s monthly pension of 1,000 rupees ($13.1) from the government. Since the onset of the COVID-19 outbreak in India at the beginning of March, both sources of income have dried up. Just days after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced an unprecedented three-week lockdown to halt the spread of the coronavirus, Uke, 30, who lives in a village in Maharashtra in western India ran out of money and groceries. “So, I started feeding my three young girls rice with a chutney, made of crushed onions or tomatoes,” she says. She managed to find work in a neighbouring village for a day. With the money she earned, she was able to buy some food from a market 10 kilometres (6.2 miles) away. But getting to the market with an autorickshaw cost her 300 rupees ($3.9) – three times her daily wage – as no buses were running due to the lockdown. She offered to compensate the driver later, but he insisted on her paying him immediately “So I gave him my necklace to keep, till I can pay him back,” she says. He agreed but said he would charge an additional dollar in interest.
The situation faced by Uke and many others like her brings tears to our eyes and the extent the pandemic has adversely affected the general lives of a common man is unimaginable. To obtain a single penny, the hardship one has to go through is inexpressible. To feed the family where there is one breadwinner who lost his/her only job has to go through is unthinkable. Food and shelter are basic human necessities and imagine the situation where you lost both overnight, in a blink of an eye, when you have no saving at all and all you earn is sufficient for now, as you are sacked from the job because your employer does not have any money to pay you that puts you in a situation where you do not have a single penny to pay neither the rent of your shelter nor to buy food. Right now, as you read this, this is happening all over the world and the number of poor and needy are increasing resulting in increasing the number of people who are eligible to receive Zakat.
Zakat is the third pillar of Islam and it is mandatory to pay Zakat for all those who are eligible to pay it. The holy book of Muslims, the Quran, has prescribed eight categories of recipients of zakat and among them include poor and needy. With the worsening of the economic situation of a common man due to widespread of COVID-19 pandemic, there is a religious, moral and humane duty upon the eligible zakat payers to pay the zakat as early as possible and at the same time, there is a religious, moral and humane duty upon the zakat managing organizations to disburse zakat money to its eligible recipients without any delays. Zakat activation button need to be pressed to release the economic and financial pain and burden caused by the pandemic in the lives of the people who live in our societies. Below suggested are some ways in which zakat could provide economic and social relief in COVID-19 situation providing some guidance for Zakat organizations.
- To Build Isolation Facilities
In this pandemic, those who believe they are infected and feels that they need to be isolated from their respective families might not have a place to isolate themselves. As such, via zakat funds, an appropriate isolation facilities can be created and given access to those in need.
- To Provide Temporary Shelter to Homeless
Due to loss of employment and lack of savings, some may loose their homes as they are unable to pay rent. There also could be people who are homeless from the beginning and now under the lock down situation might not have any place to live in. To provide relief to these segment of population, it is imperative to create shelters using zakat funds.
- To build IT infrastructure for Educational Institutes to provide long distance education
Due to spread of COVID-19, educational institutions are closed as well. However, the time when the things in our societies will go back to normal is unknown and we do not know whether we will ever go back to normal. Some say we will have to go to a new normal. As such, since education is an important area to develop minds of human, via zakat funds, the IT infrastructure of educational institutions could be improved in the hope that long distance education could be given to children and adults who are in need of it.
- To increase online da’wah activities
The physical d’awah activities like going to mosques or gathering to hear religious lectures were common before COVID-19. However, under this new circumstance, training need to be given to preachers on how to do da’wah via social media. For this, financial aid is required and this could be made via zakat funds.
- To provide research grant to finance treatment infrastructure required for rural areas
In rural areas, there is need to develop ways to treat persons infected with COVID-19 including the testing for the detection of the disease. As such, zakat funds could be used to create the required infrastructure for this for rural communities.
- To provide grants to finance the invention of a vaccine
The whole humankind today is looking for a vaccine that will protect us from COVID-19. A large amount of financing is required for this invention and as such, zakat fund could be used to provide grants to finance the invention of a vaccine.
- To provide financial assistance for the unemployed
For an unemployed, he will require some liquid case to meet his daily needs. As such, financial assistance via zakat fund could be used to assist them.
- To provide financial assistance to people who has been stranded in foreign countries
There are many who has traveled abroad or to other states of the country in which they live in to seek medical services and due to lock down, they are being stranded. For them financial assistance could be extended via zakat funds.
- Provide financial assistance to farmers to increase production
There a high demand for food and as such, supply for food need to be increased. As such, farming could be encouraged and incentives to remain in the profession could be provided to them via zakat funds.
- To provide assistance to pay off the loans
Poor and needy for sustain their living might have taken loans and they might be in a position where they might be unable to pay their debts. To help debtors, zakat fund could be used.
- To create Zakat online shops
For needy to have access to basic necessities, online zakat shops could be opened and needy could order their basic necessities via this shop. This will really assist the poor and needy to meet their daily needs to survive.
- To create mechanism for zakat food delivery for Ramadan
Ramadan is coming in less than a week. In Ramadan, there are people who used to break their fast in mosques and since mosques are closed in this Ramada, there is need to create a food delivery system to those who need that.
- To Create expatriate Shelter and food house
Expatriate workers who lost their jobs in this situation need shelter and food to survive in a foreign country. Zakat fund could be used to ease them in this difficult situation where they have no way to go back to their country.
- To create Shelter homes for Victims of Domestic Violence
In a lock down situation, there are victims of domestic violence who is suffering as they have nowhere to go except to live with the perpetrator and tolerate the pain inflicted to them. As such, zakat funds could be used to bring them out of this situation and provide them shelter.
It is essential not note that, zakat organizations in India need to find alternative and innovate ways to facilitate the zakat payers to pay zakat via allowing the payment of zakat to be made online or in any possible way where presence of the payer of Zakat is not required or physical distance is observed without putting the zakat payer at the risk of being infected by COVID-19. For instance, in Malaysia, it was announced that zakat collection could be made via online and payment methods such as drive-through payment and house-to-house collection will also be available. In the latter case, it was said that zakat contributors and ‘amil must maintain their personal hygiene, wear face masks and use disinfectants. In India, currently in the lockdown situation, if it becomes difficult to make arrangement for online payment of zakat for the specific zakat organizations, they could appoint Shops with those facilities in place to be their collection agents. This would provide ease for the zakat payers and as such, at this time of need of zakat money, there could be an increase in the zakat money paid and as a result, needier and poorer could be given assistance.
The shops via people buy essentials could play a vital role in this to create awareness and promote the importance of paying zakat. In this regard, charity rounding up could also be activated which is a scalable and a very effective process where raising money for charity by using retail transactions at either a retail store’s point of sale (POS) terminal or via an online website is made. This concept could be linked with zakat as well. When a person buys things online, an option could be given to the shopper while checking out to pay zakat or charity, which will facilitate the zakat and charity funds to be increased. This could be a more convenient way for the potential donators. The Zakat organizations in India could join hands with the shops to practically implement this.
The undeniable truth today is the widespread of COVID-19 pandemic has increased poverty and the number of poor has increased due to sudden loss of employment. There are many who has lost their savings and who does not have sufficient funds event to meet their daily basic necessities creating more Mustahlik. According to a recent report release of International Labour Organization (ILO), the coronavirus pandemic may push 400 million Indian workers deeper into poverty. In this pandemic health crisis, zakat can be used in number of ways to assist to overcome the situation and some of the ways in this regard are provided in this article. Definitely COVID-19 has created an emergency situation to provide and economic relief by activating zakat that could be collected and distributed in a socially distant manner.